Nightly News   |  August 26, 2013

Tracking yearly blood tests may reveal early-stage ovarian cancer

MD Anderson Cancer Center studied more than 4000 low-risk women over 11 years by tracking the results of a blood test called CA-125, which is a common marker for ovarian cancer. NBC’s Dr. Nancy Snyderman reports.

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>>> there is encouraging news tonight to share about a silent killer of women -- ovarian cancer . it kills 14,000 women every year and most are diagnosed too late for treatment to be effective. tonight the latest results on a study of a blood test that could potentially save a lot of lives by detecting this disease much earlier. here is chief medical editor dr. nancy snyderman .

>> reporter: when liz degalle met linda nelson taylor their first year in college, the two quickly became best friends.

>> she was always a true friend and a lot of fun to be with. we were like sisters. and it was an instant friendship.

>> reporter: that bond lasted more than 20 years until linda died of ovarian cancer at the age of 43. it is a disease notoriously difficult to diagnose at an early stage. so in linda 's memory, liz joined a study at m.d. anderson cancer center following more than 4,000 low-risk, post-menopausal women over 11 years using ca-125, a simple blood test , and a common marker for ovarian cancer . by giving this blood test yearly and routinely tracking the results, doctors could pick up early stages of the disease with almost 100% accuracy.

>> it is only when you look at it over time that it starts to become much more effective at picking up early stage disease.

>> reporter: based on those results, some women had ultrasounds to look for a cancerous mass, and if necessary, surgery. about halfway through the study, liz degalle's, ca-125 numbers were up, and she was diagnosed with early stage ovarian cancer .

>> i just thought i was tired. i had some pain, different places, but nothing on a regular basis.

>> reporter: that is common. the reason so many women aren't diagnosed until the cancer has spread. the problem, symptoms are often vague and can mimic other ailments. they may include abdominal discomfort, including bloating, cramps, changes in bowel habits, back pain and abnormal bleeding. doctors say there may be cause for concern if any of these last for more than a few weeks. we have been tracking linda 's -- liz 's progress the past few years. she has had surgery and chemotherapy and now is cancer free. if you are wondering if this test should become part of your routine checkup, the answer for right now is no. but there is an even bigger study under way in the u.k., in two years when those results are due then we will be able to say is ca-125 specific enough for women to be used as a routine screening test . but we are not there yet. and i think over and over again as you and i have talked, it's the human genome that will crack this open not just screening tests. that's why we do the big studies.

>> encouraging nonetheless. dr. snyderman, thanks.